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Beyond technical competence

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

The pilot just announced that we have arrived at our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.  It occurs to me, at this moment, that I have few options but to trust that the pilot possesses an adequate level of technical skill to handle whatever situation we may encounter.  As I reflect on this, I confess that I find it interesting that I have placed complete trust in someone I have never seen, never met, probably will never meet, and have only heard speak about two sentences.

Yes, I trust that the leaders and staff working for this airline are technically capable.  Confident in this, I return to my laptop and think only briefly about the important responsibilities I may be called upon to perform from my assigned exit row seat.

Airplane 3Is it my good fortune to be flying the friendly skies on the airline that employs the most technically capable people? I doubt it. I assume the crews of all major airlines possess similar technical skill.

I do have a choice of airlines to fly as the flight attendant will remind me in the next hour when she repeats the phrase that I am certain she must say in her sleep by now. “We know you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.  When your plans call for air travel in the future, we hope to see you again on one of our flights.”

Yes, I do have a choice.  How do I choose?

Like many of you, I look first to my immediate short-term interests – the flight schedules and cost.  This usually narrows my choices to two or three possibilities.  How do I choose from the short list?  I choose based on who I think will treat me the best.

That’s how most of us make the decision about who we will flatter with our business.  Across almost every industry—air travel, hospitality, financial services, retail, and so on—process and technical abilities are fairly easy to copy. The competitive advantage goes to those who treat the people they serve the best. Even when transactions are conducted business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer, it is important to realize that people are always at the center of decision-making.  Businesses don’t do business with businesses, people do business with people.  And people want to be treated well.

Research supports this. According to Harvard University, Stanford Institute and the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of success is due to technical skills. In most industries, the people we serve assume a level of technical capability. It is the people skills that are the differentiator, to the tune of 85 percent.

My experience today has been satisfactory. It appears the employees I interacted with have been schooled by their leaders in the culture of their organization and expectations for customer service. I will include this airline in my future travel plans—unless and until another airline figures out how to leverage the 85percent of their success that relies on people skills and takes my experience to a new level.

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